Absorption professionals scorn extra NIS 600 for immigrants moving north
Absorption professionals disagreed over the potential effectiveness of a new government program designed to draw recent arrivals to the Galilee and Negev by partially subsidizing their rent. "Any subsidy is always welcome, but what the ministry is offering isn't enough to cover one month's rent, and I doubt people will make life-altering choices based on that," said Yanina Musnikow, a former field worker and counselor for the north for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.
Last month the Absorption Ministry announced it was launching a new pilot program offering immigrant families with children a monthly 1,200 NIS rent subsidy provided they settle in Acre, Nahariya, Carmiel, Migdal Ha'emek, Upper Nazareth, Safed, Katzrin, Tiberias, Arad, Dimona, or Be'er Sheva. The program includes all the kibbutzim which belong to the government's First Home in the Homeland program.
The ministry currently offers all new immigrants a standard rent subsidy of 600 shekels per month. The NIS 5.5 million pilot is intended for over 200 families immigrating to Israel during the second half of 2010. Marketing the new plan to prospective and new immigrants will be the responsibility of the Jewish Agency.
According to Musnikow, "Rent is not the most pressing need facing new immigrants who settle in the Galilee. The priority is always being able to support yourself. First priority is finding work, and the second priority is education." She added that most North American and British immigrants who settle in the Galilee tend to prefer small towns and moshavim over the kibbutzim or urban centers included in the ministry's pilot, limiting its potential.
Josie Arbel, the AACI's director of absorption services, said she was "cautious about this project" because unlike the ministry's Community Absorption program - which was recently discontinued for lack of funding - the new program does not give new immigrants a go-between to help them vis-?-vis schools, landlords and other authorities.
But the ministry's director-general, Dmitry Apartev - a resident of Katzrin in the Golan - said the cities chosen to participate in the pilot were selected based on the "proven success and performance" of their absorption departments. He added that "with 1,500 shekels you can rent a nice apartment in the north. This means the new program allows the new immigrant to not worry about rent and work hard to study Hebrew. And this is the key to finding a job."
Roni Flamer, co-founder and CEO of the Or Movement, which promotes settling in the Galilee and Negev, said a 31-percent hike in housing costs in Israel over the past five years has made rent a "major concern" for immigrants, such that the new initiative could make "a serious impact."
However, Chaim Waxman, a sociologist who focuses on immigration from English-speaking countries, said he expected that "those who come with the skills that require working in center of the country, such as hi-tech professionals, will not move up there for an additional 600 shekels."
In 2008, the immigration-assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh launched its "Go North" program, offering a $25,000 grant for North American and British families choosing to settle in the Golan and Galilee. By 2009, the $10 million Go North program had attracted some 40 families to those regions, according to Nefesh B'Nefesh figures. Last year, some 3,800 Jews moved to Israel from North America - the most since 1983.
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